Last week’s ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Waco Foundation’s MAC College Money Program and the awarding of annual scholarships was impressive for several reasons, but none more so than illustrating how one couple’s resolve to bolster the education of subsequent generations inspired others to do likewise. Think about this next time someone stereotypes our town unfairly.

Longtime businessman and philanthropist Malcolm Duncan Sr., who turns 86 this week, will go down in local annals as a strong mayor and school board president, an exemplary model of civic leadership and even proof that such qualities are genetic, given that his son also ranks as an exceptional mayor. But in the final analysis, Duncan and his late wife, Mary Ruth, will rank higher for the extraordinary vision, commitment and raw charisma that regularly spurs neighbors and friends to share their faith in the prospects of local students, many from modest backgrounds, yet brimming with ambition and promise.

That’s what struck me at the scholarship awards ceremony at McLennan Community College. Sure, Duncan was in the spotlight, but as one scholarship recipient after another of this year’s crop of 66 stepped forward to formally receive his or her scholarship, one was struck at the name for which this or that particular scholarship was given. And over 20 years, the list has proven a long one. Some gave to the cause a few years and moved on. Others are in for the long run.

Among those joining in the Duncans’ cause over the past two decades: the Clifton Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Kyle Deaver, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Haller, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Hawkins, Hewlett-Packard Company, the Fentress Foundation, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (well, of course), Mr. and Mrs. David Hoppenstein, former Ambassador and Mrs. Lyndon Olson, Crawford Independent School District and the Waco High Class of 1950. I had Waco Foundation officials checking to see why the Buffalo News was once involved in helping finance these scholarships — presumably, this is the respected daily newspaper of Buffalo, New York — but no one could discover why.

Duncan, who not surprisingly was in the automotive business for years, dismisses the notion he has very much to do with pressing others to help out: “I just write them a letter every year. It’s an easy cause to spread. It must be.”

The Duncans started the program to ensure every student in McLennan County with the educational chops, yet of limited means, is able to receive two years at McLennan Community College or Texas State Technical College. It’s expanded since then to also help students with their third and fourth years of college, assuming they have at least a 3.0 grade-point average during their first years of college. Baylor University has contributed greatly to this phase, annually offering full tuition to three such students. And, of course, youths must pass muster with Duncan, who continues to grill all third- and fourth-year students. He speaks highly of these “smart, hard-working students, many of whom maintain full-time jobs and support family members while going through school.”

The MAC program has awarded more than $7.1 million in scholarships since it was launched in 1995, with the Duncans putting more than $3.5 million into the program and pledging future gifts of more than $300,000 annually. Other founding members include Clifton and Betsy Robinson, Paul and Jane Meyer and Audre and Bernard Rapoport — powerful names in local philanthropy. The Waco Foundation, which administers the program, also gives to it and now individual board members are beginning to do likewise.

Even more impressive: some former MAC students themselves who invest in the program when they start working. Waco Foundation officials tell me that they see 22-year-olds deducting $10 or $20 per paycheck to help students next in line succeed. When one considers how tight funds are when you graduate from college, the example these particular adults set is all the more impressive — and gives one hope the golden age of philanthropy is not past.

Duncan tells me his own horizons are regularly expanded when he interviews these students: “I had a young girl that had just graduated from TSTC from two years as a body technician, a body shop technician. Her father ran what I would call a shade-tree body shop and she said, ‘I do all of his painting.’ And I checked with her about paints. I mean, I ran a whole group of paint shops and I realized fast that she knew what she was talking about. We now are funding her to go two years to be a body shop manager. I mean, have you ever met a woman who has a body shop?”

I suspect we’re about to.